Archives for August 2014

What – not who – is really to blame in Ferguson?

For the past few weeks I’ve sat quietly, refusing to speak out either way regarding the chaos in Ferguson, Mo. True enough, I am a political columnist, talk radio host, and a former police officer. Yet, I have consciously chosen to stay away from addressing the riots in Ferguson, even though one would assume I would be covering it along with the rest of the media. I have a rule for myself that basically states that if what I have to say on a subject fails to provide either a solution or helps to provide clarity to a problem, then what I have to say simply isn’t worth saying.

Despite the fact that facts were the one thing missing in Ferguson, many in the world of political punditry rattled on and on with varying opinions of every topic handed to them, ranging from the disconcerting militarization of America’s police forces to the ridiculous attempts by far-left extremists to blame the incident of August 9th and all that followed on, of course, climate change. On a side note, I’d imagine that even the fear-mongering Chicken Little—who himself stormed throughout the barnyard warning others that, “the sky is falling!”—would tell those screaming about Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Jihad to relax, lest others fail to take them or their future efforts seriously.

At this point there’s no denying the fact that the country is pretty much divided into two camps regarding Ferguson. Some will tell you that Officer Darren Wilson abused his police power in the initial confrontation and needlessly shot the victim, Michael Brown, while Brown had his hands up in an attempt to surrender. However, the other camp will tell you about the serious medical injuries sustained by the officer during the struggle between the two men that seem to support the officer’s claims. Regardless, both sides have prematurely convicted the other, well before all the facts and evidences have been presented.

And all the while, Ferguson is staring America right in the face, giving us an unflinching look at the core of what’s wrong with our society. Some may say that the problem in Ferguson stems from racism. Another may tell you that the problem stems from a violent thug culture, while others may say the real problem is the militarization of our American police forces. Regardless of any evidence they may present to support their assertions, all of the above issues are but a small symptom of what truly ails us as a nation.

The real problem is that we have too much passion, and not enough compassion. And passion that isn’t tempered by our compassion for others quickly becomes a raging fire that devours the man who wields it. Because the focus of passion is on oneself, while compassion by its very nature, focuses on the well-being of others. And that’s exactly what you see happening all throughout the United States. From the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C., all the way down to our local diners, people are passionate about a whole host of issues that are important to them, but too few are taking time to be compassionate toward their neighbor.

The problem with Ferguson, MO is the same problem everywhere else in the United States. People became overwhelmed by their emotions, which led them to participate in the mob mentality we witnessed on the news. Compassion for the families of both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson was replaced–and perhaps never even considered–by the morally bankrupt considerations of those who were SOS: Stuck On Self. The compassionate man does so today knowing that he may be in need of it tomorrow.

Everything that happened in Ferguson is but a mere symptom of a lack of compassion for one’s neighbors and their community. From the haste shown by those who are in a rush to judge either side before all the facts are known, to those who ignorantly participated in the destruction of property belonging to others, even all the way down to the heavy-handed response of the police; it’s all symptomatic of a lack of compassion and consideration for others beyond oneself. And they excuse such actions by saying the looters are just frustrated because, “they just want to have their voices heard.”

Truthfully, I don’t believe any of those pundits who attempted to explain away such unexplainable behavior did so simply because they had to have something to say.

People mistakenly believe they have a right to be heard. However, the cold, hard truth of the matter is that they don’t. Oh sure, you have Freedom of Speech as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, but even then your speech is limited in regards to what you say and how you say it. Everyone knows that the FBI would have something to say to anyone who decides to board a plane and immediately announce they have a bomb on board. Likewise, continuing to yell out curse words in a public place in front of small children could result in your arrest for disorderly conduct in certain jurisdictions. You have freedom of speech, but even it is regulated within the confines of what society deems appropriate behavior. But one thing you do not have is a right to be heard. Your freedom of speech can continue as others walk away.

Rather than being so engrossed with ourselves, wouldn’t it behoove us to slow down and get to know those around us? Because we can talk about all of the many symptoms plaguing us, but unless we address our lack of compassion, we’re simply ignoring the real problem. Let’s not wait until a tragedy strikes at home before we take a look around and realize we’ve been consumed by our own passions, instead of showing compassion toward others. Slow down and help that stranger in line behind you at the grocery store, you’ve got the time. Reach out to a local family who’s in need of a helping hand. Do something kind for others in their time of need today, so they’ll help you in your time of need tomorrow.

Mike Swims is a political columnist and podcast host. He is also a Demopolis resident and local preacher. His column on politics and current events appears regularly for The West Alabama Watchman. Want to contact the author? Email him at


Photo of the Day: August 31, 2014

r - potd - fishingGetting in a late summer fishing trip near the Jackson Street Bridge.

DHS cross country team competes in first-ever meet

Photo submitted by Deborah Boykin

Photo submitted by Deborah Boykin

Demopolis High School’s cross country team competed in its first-ever meet in Florence Saturday. Placing for DHS were Gracie Boykin, fourth place; Sylvia Clayton, sixth; Baja Fultz, ninth and Darnesha Harris, 15th. “It was a great day,” said coach Deborah Boykin. “We had no idea what to expect since it was our first cross country, but they represented Demopolis well.”

Buckalew named director of Alumni Relations at UWA

Buckalew_DanielleLIVINGSTON, Ala. – The University of West Alabama’s Office of Institutional Advancement has announced that UWA alumnae Danielle Buckalew will serve as director of the school’s Alumni Relations staff. Buckalew previously served as director of undergraduate recruiting.

“We’re excited to have Danielle, a lifetime member of the UWA community, on board as director of the Office of Alumni Relations,” said Clemit Spruiell, vice president for institutional advancement.

“Danielle worked for three years on ‘The University We Will Be’ capital campaign, where she was an integral part of the organization and progress of the endeavor that raised $15 million for UWA,” Spruiell said.

Among her responsibilities is the school’s Homecoming celebration, set for October 24 and 25. Buckalew will also lead the staff in coordinating events across Alabama and in other areas with a population of UWA alumni.

“I’m excited to be in this role and work closely with some really outstanding people who have graduated from UWA and moved on to interesting and successful careers,” Buckalew said. “I want us to both reconnect with the alumni base that may have lost touch for whatever reason and to establish a foundation early for our young alumni.”

Web“We have alumni across the nation-across the globe-who have had very successful careers in a wide range of really interesting fields, and they have great experience that they can share with fellow alumni and our students,” she said. “They’re very successful in business, education, healthcare, communications, entertainment, and so many other areas, and it’s important for them and for their former classmates that we showcase their success and connect with them to improve the University in every way.”

Before moving to the Office of Admissions and Enrollment Management in 2011, Buckalew worked as assistant director of alumni relations. A resident of Livingston, she holds a 2007 bachelor’s degree and a 2012 master’s degree-both from UWA.

To know more about UWA Alumni programs or events scheduled in a particular area, contact Buckalew at the Office of Alumni Relations by phone at 205-652-3852 or by email at Alumni can also connect with UWA online at

UWA Board of Trustees to meet Sept. 8

LIVINGSTON, Ala.-The University of West Alabama Board of Trustees will hold its quarterly meeting Monday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m. in the conference room at Lyon Hall on the Livingston campus.

In addition, five committees will meet Monday, Sept. 8, prior to the board meeting:

Academic Affairs Committee
Lyon Hall Conference Room, Lyon Hall
9:00 a.m.

Institutional Advancement Committee
Lyon Hall Conference Room, Lyon Hall
9:30 a.m.

Student Affairs Committee
Lyon Hall Conference Room, Lyon Hall
10:00 a.m.

University Facilities Committee
Lyon Hall Conference Room, Lyon Hall
10:30 a.m.

Finance Committee
Young Hall Cafeteria, New Private Dining Room
11:00 a.m.

Bice focuses on Plan 2020 during Demopolis stop

Dr. Tommy Bice“You’ve got to be disruptive to make things happen,” Dr. Tommy Bice, state Superintendent of Education, told the audience at Demopolis High School Thursday night.

“There’s not a one way” to do things, and under Plan 2020 each school system has the flexibility to set up innovative ways to reach and teach students.

Bice is on a 12-stop tour of cities around the state to speak on “The Future of Public Education,” preparing all students to be college- and career-ready. Demopolis was his second stop.

The mostly supportive audience of about 75 people listened as Bice in a rapid-fire manner told how school districts across the state are implementing new and different ways of increasing graduation percentages, lowering drop-out rates, and teaching subjects so that students will be ready to enter into the 21st century workforce.

Bice, who took over as superintendent in 2012, said his first goal was to challenge the status quo in the state and shake the belief that all education must take place in the same way it has been for decades.

Visiting with business and industry leaders and college administrators, Bice asked what Alabama graduates were lacking. He was surprised that so many said those graduates lacked intellectual curiosity.

One of the first things that the state Board of Education has eliminated is the Alabama High School Graduation Exam, which, said Bice, “didn’t mean anything.” He said 97 percent of seniors passed the exam, but of those who took the ACT exam for college entrance, more than half had to take remedial courses.

Now the state is using a different assessment tied to the ACT test but has begun tracking student progress in the third grade.

“The biggest challenge is redefining what the measure of success is,” he said. It has changed from annual yearly progress as set up by the No Child Left Behind initiative to college- and career-readiness.

Andrea Mayfield“It takes behavioral changes on the part of adults” to make progress, said Bice. He said the biggest obstacles are those he called “CAVE” dwellers – Citizens Against Virtually Everything. “We want a system that serves children and not us,” he stressed.

Each week Bice makes an unannounced visit to a school somewhere in the state to see what schools are doing to meet their challenges and discover how students are making a practical application to what they learn.

He has found that some schools have done away with desks and seat children around a table to interact with each other. He found a fifth grade class writing computer codes to send robotic cars around a grid. Another class used the math they had learned to build a small house in their classroom in one day.

In shaking up the state school system, new standards have been implemented, which has led to opposition by those who believe the federal government is forcing local school systems to comply with certain regulations known as Common Core.

In Alabama, Bice explained, those standards are known as College- and Career- Readiness Standards. “We took the Common Core and added standards to it,”

“I am the only living human being in the state of Alabama who was at the first meeting in 2008” with superintendents from several other states who were discussing how standards are set up in their respective states.

“We all realized we were doing a lot of the same work,” he said, and they asked themselves, “Would it not make more sense than if we look at the best from all our different states, put them together into something we could all share and talk about?”

The states got together and began setting up common standards. Those standards were brought back to Alabama where teachers, administrators and parents began evaluating them. Some were eliminated and others added to.

Since the standards were implemented three years ago, he joked, no federal agency has called him to ask about the state standards. “We get to do our own thing. There is no federal oversight. “

Bice stressed that he is an independent when it comes to politics. “I think it’s insulting that a political party should tell me what to do.”

He said people are wanting to make Common Core the political topic of the year, “and regretfully this is not good for kids.”

He said other arguments against Common Core standards do not apply locally. Alabama is the only state in the nation with assessments aligned with ACT from grades three through 12. It is not part of the federally-funded assessment consortium associated with Common Core.

It is one of three states that did not get a federally-funded data system grant which required data being handled outside of Alabama, and all student data is housed with the Alabama Super Computer Authority in Huntsville. “Not one thing leaves the borders of the state of Alabama.”

Bice was challenged for taking a 26 percent pay hike when teachers didn’t receive anything. He said he didn’t ask for a raise, only for an extension to his contract, but to accept the contract, he had to accept the raise.

A concern about the arts being cut from schools led Bice to say that some people see the arts as an add-on, but the common thread in lower performing schools is that they no longer have any arts program.

Dr. Andrea Mayfield, the new president of Shelton State Community College, led off the evening and announced that the college will begin teaching truck driver training in Demopolis at the former New Era site beginning October 17.

“Education today is something that drives our economy, and it is important that we express our passion for education,” she said.

“The community college is unique in that it provides opportunities for anyone, no matter where they are in the educational process,” she continued.

Jay Reynolds, founder of the Demopolis Area Business Council, thanked the educators in the room. “Education is what separates how bright our future can be.”

Reynolds said he already has seen some of the changes at DHS since Bice’s Plan 2020 was implemented and giving schools the flexibility to come up with innovative ideas unique to their own situations.

One of those plans at DHS is the start of Insurance Service curriculum, which Reynolds has helped design.

8-29-2014 Demopolis vs. Thomasville (gallery)

Photo of the Day: August 30, 2014

potd - grayson1Mayor Mike Grayson shared his vision for the future at the Demopolis Area Business Council’s monthly meeting at Batter Up earlier this week.

A.L. Johnson takes 4A West Blocton ‘to the limit’

THOMASTON – Far from satisfied with a loss, A.L. Johnson High School head coach Johnny Ford was nonetheless pleased with the effort his Eagles showed in Friday night’s 31-22 loss to West Blocton High – a school three classifications above ALJ.

A.L. Johnson head coach Johnny Ford rallies his defense during a timeout.

A.L. Johnson head coach Johnny Ford rallies his defense during a timeout.

“We took a 4A team to the limit,” said Ford. “This let us know we’ve got some guts and some character. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times, but we competed with them. I like the way our guys competed, even though we didn’t win the game.”

The homestanding Eagles brought the crowd to its feet midway through the fourth quarter, taking a 16-15 lead in what had been a defensive slugfest. A.L. Johnson scored on an 11-yard Mike Croom run that was set up by a Jeremiah Smith fumble recovery at the visiting Tigers’ 24. ALJ quarterback Zynell McGhee tossed a two -point conversion pass into the end zone and receiver Gregory Baker won the jump ball to put A.L. Johnson up by one.

West Blocton quickly answered, though, marching 68 yards and retaking the lead on a one-yard Jake Vick quarterback sneak. Paul Clayton’s two-point conversion run gave WBHS a 23-16 margin, and another score moments later pushed the Tiger lead to 31-16.

The gritty Eagles bounced back to make the final margin 31-22 when McGhee hit Charles Edwards on an 18-yard scoring strike with 54 seconds to play.

“This was a learning experience for our guys,” said Ford, in his first season at the helm of the Eagle program. “We now have a week off to get ready for regional play.”

Both defenses showed their prowess in the first half, each holding the other team out of the end zone for the entire first quarter. In the second, the teams traded scores, with A.L. Johnson taking the game’s first lead on a McGhee sneak on fourth-and-goal from the one with 6:59 left in the half.

McGhee hit Baker for the two-point conversion.

West Blocton bounced back moments later on Leonard Ward’s one-yard run to cap a 62-yard drive, followed by a Ward two-point conversion run.

In the third quarter, West Blocton took a momentary 15-8 lead when Clayton bolted 40 yards for the score and Jaylon Gaines booted the extra point, leading to Croom’s touchdown run on the next series that gave ALJ its final lead of the night.

West Blocton advances to 2-0 with the win, while A.L. Johnson falls to 1-1. After next week’s bye, the Eagles travel to Akron Sept. 12.

Demopolis falls to Thomasville in opener

Logan McVay looks for blockers on a run against Thomasville.

Logan McVay looks for blockers on a run against Thomasville.

Miscues plagued Demopolis throughout the night Friday as it fell 18-14  in its season opener to Thomasville.

“It was a tough, hard-fought ball game where we missed a couple of the opportunities we should have had,” Demopolis coach Tom Causey said. “Thomasville made the most of a couple of opportunities and that was the different in the ball game. It was four points.”

Thomasville fumbled the ball four times and saw two punt attempts turned into massive losses that set Demopolis up on the doorstep of the end zone.

The first of those special teams errors allowed Demopolis to run two plays and cover five yards, scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Jayjerrin Craig with 6:06 left in the first quarter.

Erin White (72, bottom), Drew Jones (34), Matt Dauphin (35) and Rahmeel Cook (top) take down a Thomasville runner.

Erin White (72, bottom), Drew Jones (34), Matt Dauphin (35) and Rahmeel Cook (top) take down a Thomasville runner.

With 2:19 left in the opening quarter, Trevor Wilson busted around the left side and sprinted down the sidelines for a 69-yard touchdown run that cut the Thomasville deficit to 7-6. Tyler Colburn blocked the extra point to preserve the one-point lead.

Thomasville got its second score of the game when Byran Hosea punctuated an eight-play, 62-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. The conversion attempt failed, leaving Thomasville up 12-7.

Demopolis appeared to take the lead in the third quarter when Craig seemed to punch the ball over the goal line. The ball popped loose on the play and ultimately made its way into the hands of Thomasville’s Tyshaun Hayes in the end zone to give the visiting Tigers possession and a touchback.

Demopolis went for a fourth-down conversion early in the fourth quarter, failing in the effort and leaving Thomasville 25 yards from paydirt. Hosea cashed in on the chance with a 24-yard touchdown to push the lead to 18-7.

Davontae May wraps up a Thomasville runner.

Davontae May wraps up a Thomasville runner.

Demopolis pulled itself back into it with 4:13 to play when Logan McVay hit Seth Aiken for a 34-yard strike. McVay then punched it in from a yard out.

“I’m proud of our guys fore battling,” Causey said. “They never quit playing and gave us a chance to win there at the end.”

Wilson led the offensive effort for Thomasville with 143 yards on 19 carries. Colburn led Demopolis with 15 total tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

Drew Jones (34) and Matt Dauphin take down a Thomasville runner as Marcus Wright (26) closes in.

Drew Jones (34) and Matt Dauphin take down a Thomasville runner as Marcus Wright (26) closes in.

Demopolis must now turn its attention to region foe Calera, a team it will face on the road next week.

“We’ve got to come back, re-focus and get this region win,” Causey told his team following the loss.

Thomasville finds itself 2-0 headed into region play after beating rivals Sweet Water and Demopolis in consecutive weeks..

“It’s got to give us great momentum going into the region games now,” Thomasville coach Jack Hankins said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better. We’ve got a lot of improving to do.”